Writing Tips From Fay Weldon

The Rules of Vonnegut / 6

Be a sadist. No matter how sweet or innocent your leading character is, make awful things happen to them in order that they reader can find out what they are made of.’

Don’t be too preoccupied with your own skills as a writer, or achieving a publishing deal which will bring you fame and fortune. Think about your reader. He or she has bought your book. Readers prefer your company to their own, or hope they will when they hand over their hard earned money. At stake is not just money; they are trusting a patch of their precious life to you. That is really flattering. The readers want a little relief from their own life – whether too boring, tragic or troubling – so do them proud. They want something from you that their own life isn’t offering, be it entertainment, explanation, understanding, sympathy, fellow feeling, a sense of order and of justice. Real life is chaotic and without apparent meaning. Fictional life is ordered, structured and finite. ‘The end’, you write, and that’s that, safely locked up and put away: an alternative universe understood and completed, one to treasure. The stronger the events in it the better. Let you characters triumph over unimaginable odds or miscomprehension and misunderstanding. It would be possible to fit in a whole novel, I know, between someone putting the milk on the stove and it boiling over, to have the saucepan either snatched away in time, or not – but there are easier ways of making your point. Let volcanoes erupt, memory be lost, war divide families. Let something happen (and do always try and get out of the kitchen, out of the house.)

Just don’t disappoint your reader. Your novel is more about her or him than about you.

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